Tip: To manage stress, sleep better. To sleep better, keep a good routine and manage stress.

Dis­rupt­ed rou­tines and wor­ries about coro­n­avirus have made it hard­er for us to sleep this year. For exam­ple, reports sug­gest there was a 15% increase in pre­scrip­tions for sleep med­ica­tion pre­scrip­tions at the begin­ning of the pan­dem­ic in the U.S., and a 37% increase in insom­nia in China.

Impor­tant­ly, if you’ve been feel­ing out of sorts over the past few months, the lack of sleep could be part­ly to blame. Accord­ing to new research con­duct­ed before the pan­dem­ic, sleep depri­va­tion damp­ens our enthu­si­asm about pos­i­tive events, and makes it hard­er to find the sil­ver lin­ings when we’re under stress.

In the paper, pub­lished ear­li­er this year in Health Psy­chol­o­gy, researchers sur­veyed near­ly 2,000 adults in the Unit­ed States. For eight days, par­tic­i­pants received a phone call each evening in which they were asked to report how much they’d slept the night before, whether they had expe­ri­enced any stress­ful or pos­i­tive events, and their over­all lev­els of pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive emotions.

When par­tic­i­pants got more sleep, they had high­er lev­els of pos­i­tive emo­tions and low­er lev­els of neg­a­tive emo­tions the next day. More­over, sleep impact­ed how the events of the day affect­ed them. On days when par­tic­i­pants had a stress­ful event, their pos­i­tive emo­tions took less of a hit if they’d got­ten a good night’s sleep before­hand. And, on days when good things hap­pened, par­tic­i­pants expe­ri­enced an even greater boost in pos­i­tive emo­tions if they were well-rest­ed. These ben­e­fits were even more pro­nounced for peo­ple who had a greater num­ber of chron­ic health con­di­tions, such as high blood pres­sure or diabetes.

Sleep has many wide-rang­ing effects on our lives. For exam­ple, past research has found that sleep depri­va­tion may be a risk fac­tor for devel­op­ing chron­ic health issues. And its impact on pos­i­tive emo­tions could part­ly help explain this, since pos­i­tive emo­tions seem to reduce our inflam­ma­tion and pro­tect our health. In oth­er words, sleep’s effect on our moods could even trans­late to bet­ter or worse health over time.

In addi­tion to health, sleep depri­va­tion can also impact our rela­tion­ships with others—in two ways, says Nan­cy Sin, assis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of British Colum­bia and lead author of the paper. First, the irri­tabil­i­ty you feel when sleep-deprived can harm rela­tion­ships direct­ly (which might be a rea­son to post­pone seri­ous con­ver­sa­tions to a day when you’re more well-rest­ed). Addi­tion­al­ly, because pos­i­tive emo­tions play a cru­cial role in build­ing rela­tion­ships, not expe­ri­enc­ing as many pos­i­tive emo­tions when you’re sleep-deprived could make it hard­er to cul­ti­vate a sense of close­ness with others.

How­ev­er, the good news is that sim­ple changes to our rou­tines can help improve sleep. Things like keep­ing a reg­u­lar sched­ule, exer­cis­ing, and lim­it­ing unnec­es­sary light and noise in your bed­room can all help pro­mote sleep.

One major rec­om­men­da­tion Sin offers is to lim­it screen time before bed; research sug­gests that elec­tron­ics can emit blue light that inter­feres with sleep. If you often find your­self “doom­scrolling” on social media dur­ing late-night hours, con­sid­er set­ting a time to turn off screens and switch to a more relax­ing activ­i­ty (like read­ing or lis­ten­ing to calm­ing music).

For those who live with fam­i­ly or room­mates, Sin empha­sizes that get­ting a good night’s sleep isn’t sole­ly an indi­vid­ual effort: The behav­iors of those we live with can dis­rupt our sleep. So, for exam­ple, con­sid­er mak­ing a pact with house­hold mem­bers to lim­it screen time, and hold­ing each oth­er accountable.

It’s impor­tant to rec­og­nize that we’ve expe­ri­enced huge changes to our rou­tines since March, Sin says, as many peo­ple have faced eco­nom­ic uncer­tain­ty, had to adjust to work­ing from home, or cared for chil­dren dur­ing school clo­sures. In that light, it’s prob­a­bly not too sur­pris­ing that so many of us have expe­ri­enced sleep dis­rup­tions. Although it wasn’t the case in this new study, oth­er research sug­gests that stress can make it hard­er to sleep (par­tic­u­lar­ly if the stress­ful event occurs close to bedtime).

The flip side is that improv­ing sleep has the poten­tial to help us cope more effec­tive­ly with the stress­es we’re fac­ing right now. As Sin explains, “Main­tain­ing good sleep is one of these crit­i­cal aspects of stay­ing healthy emo­tion­al­ly and psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly dur­ing this time.”

Eliz­a­beth Hop­per, Ph.D., received her Ph.D. in psy­chol­o­gy from UC San­ta Bar­bara and cur­rent­ly works as a free­lance sci­ence writer spe­cial­iz­ing in psy­chol­o­gy and men­tal health. Based at UC-Berke­ley, Greater Good high­lights ground break­ing sci­en­tif­ic research into the roots of com­pas­sion and altru­ism. Copy­right Greater Good.

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SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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